Healthcare News & Insights

10 steps for improving your hospital’s safety culture

Creating a safety culture in your hospital is essential for improving the quality of care given to patients. To maintain a culture focused on patient safety, staff at all levels, from executives to clinicians, must be engaged in the hospital’s mission. 

The Joint Commission recently released an alert discussing how hospital leaders can do their part in developing and maintaining a safety culture for their facilities.

Ways to boost performance

Without an effective safety culture, the risk of adverse events and medical errors climbs higher for hospitals, along with other issues such as staff burnout and treatment delays.

Keeping this in mind, hospitals should make sure they’re following these 10 steps to promote a culture of safety for all staff:

  1. Assess your hospital’s current safety culture performance. The only way you’ll know how to make your facility’s safety culture better going forward is if you have an idea of how well you’re currently performing. Assessment tools such as the Hospital Survey on Patient Safety Culture from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) can be excellent resources for figuring out where your hospital stands.
  2. Analyze data to make targeted improvements. After figuring out the current state of your hospital’s safety culture, it’s important to use that information to come up with specific improvements that take your hospital’s unique characteristics into account.
  3. Start with a unit-based safety culture improvement approach. Most facilities that have made long-lasting changes toward building a more positive safety culture started by revamping processes in one unit of the hospital. Once the unit had tested out processes and protocols, the initiative was expanded. Starting small, with one unit at a time, can keep operations running smoothly while any bugs or issues are worked out with new rules and requirements.
  4. Make error reporting transparent, and use adverse events as opportunities for improvement instead of punishment. One of the top ways to promote a patient safety culture is to give doctors and nurses the freedom to openly report any mistakes or problems they notice. Treating every mistake as a learning experience helps keep them from causing harm to patients down the line.
  5. Use a clear process to distinguish human errors from deliberately unsafe actions. In some cases, patients are put in harm’s way not because of a simple mistake, but due to a blatant, unsafe action. Hospitals should have protocols in place to differentiate between these cases and address the situations accordingly.
  6. Leaders must adopt and model positive behaviors for all staff. Executives, managers and the top brass should act as the model for all interactions between staff at various levels in a hospital. This helps people feel less intimidated about confrontation when necessary, and it helps promote mutual feelings of respect. Leaders should also willingly participate in all initiatives and programs designed to improve safety culture.
  7. Have policies in place that support a culture of safety and the reporting of adverse events. To be even more transparent about the error reporting process, create specific policies addressing the protocol for reporting close calls and adverse events. Make sure all staff are aware of the policies, giving them periodic reminders if necessary.
  8. Recognize staff who report safety issues or have good ideas for improvement. Giving staff credit for their work and ideas is key to engaging them in your hospital’s safety culture. Regularly acknowledge those who identify unsafe conditions or make excellent suggestions to improve care processes, and share this information widely.
  9. Make team-based training focused on safety culture a part of future quality improvement projects or protocol changes. Teamwork is essential to making treatment safer for patients, so any future training for initiatives focused on improving quality and safety must include a team-based component. Clinical staff need to know how to work together effectively to improve patient outcomes.
  10. Regularly assess and review your hospital’s progress toward improving its safety culture. Set a specific time frame for a regular review of safety-related processes, protocols and guidelines your hospital’s following to ensure they’re effective and working as intended. Highlight what’s working, and create an improvement plan for what’s not.

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